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He’s at the top of his game. In 2005 he garnered an NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series for his role as Dr. Sheldon Hawkes on CSI: NY, a follow-up to his 2001 nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the CBS series City of Angels. Despite his impressive acting credentials, Hill Harper is cut from a different cloth. He graduated magna cum laude from Brown University and holds a law degree from Harvard Law School and a master’s in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. His entrepreneurial ventures are also noteworthy: he is co-owner of two New Orleans hotels — the International House and Loft 523 — and Big Wang’s Sports Bar in Hollywood.
A native of Iowa City, Iowa, Harper, 40, moved to Los Angeles to pursue his acting aspirations. While he remains an arresting presence in the homes of 17 million CSI: NY viewers, Harper has turned his attention to helping young black men with the release of his literary debut Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny (2006; Gotham Books). Taken from his own experiences, Harper offers advice and encouragement on media stereotypes and obtaining a well-rounded education in a voice that will resonate with many readers. BLACK ENTERPRISE recently caught up with him to talk about his message to young black men.
What did you think of The New York Times article “Plight Deepens for Black Men”? I can’t believe that more people aren’t out with picket signs in front of public schools. For instance, in the Baltimore public schools — and I’m not picking on Baltimore — we can name a number of other public school systems with similar statistics, but only one in four young black men who started in the public school system as elementary students graduate high school. That means 76%! What’s happening to them? If this doesn’t upset people, if this doesn’t make people want to do something to get some attention about these issues, then I have no idea what will.
What is your solution for our young black men? Among the most underutilized resources are mentorship and apprenticeship. Most successful people are willing to apprentice individuals. You might have to work for free and you might have to work very diligently to prove to them that you’re serious about what you want to learn. But if you contact individuals who you respect and with whom you identify, they will allow you to work alongside them for free. One way to develop a relationship from which you can learn is to offer your services for free. People understand that you have to apprentice to learn. I apprenticed under Denzel Washington when we worked together in He Got Game. Now did I walk up to Denzel and say, “Mr. Washington, will you be my mentor?” No. I watched the way he approached scenes, the way he spoke to the director, dealt with the crew members, the way he created a character. You can do that in